Saudi Arabia‘s secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi fall short of international standards and should be open to the public and trial observers, a United Nations human rights expert has said.
Agnes Callamard who leads an international inquiry into the killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, called on the kingdom to reveal the defendants’ names and the fate of 10 others initially arrested.
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“The Government of Saudi Arabia is grievously mistaken if it believes that these proceedings, as currently constituted, will satisfy the international community, either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions,” Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, said in a statement on Thursday.
The Saudi public prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects in November, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of ordering and committing the crime.
Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed and fired over the killing, is not among the 11 suspects on trial at secretive hearings in Riyadh, despite Saudi pledges to bring those responsible to justice, sources familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.
Callamard, referring to diplomats from world powers on the UN Security Council who have attended some of the four hearings thus far, warned: “They risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice, possibly complicit should it be shown that the trials are marred by violations of human rights law.”
Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who was living in the United States, was killed on October 2, 2018, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to collect documents for his planned wedding.
A critic of the Saudi government and the crown prince, Khashoggi had resisted pressure from Riyadh to return home.
His body is yet to be found.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, played down any expectations that an open trial would actually take place.
“An open, serious trial, rather than a show trial, would definitely lead to some of those who are truly responsible for the crime,” he said.
“And as we’ve heard from so many … including CIA directors and various Western intelligence agencies and others, that this couldn’t have been done without the clear involvement of the crown prince – and I can’t see the crown prince being called as a witness,” Bishara added.
“At the end of the day, Saudi Arabia is going to have to continue to make this as a show trial in order to gain some sort of good PR.”
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the Saudi criminal justice system has “an abysmal record”, marked by defendants being held for long periods without charge or trial and often denied lawyers.
Charbonneau added that Saudi authorities should open the Khashoggi murder trial to UN observers, international activists and media, and countries whose diplomats observe the trial should speak out publicly.
“We can’t enable the Saudi government to turn it into a kangaroo court that conveniently finds a bunch of people guilty while whitewashing the possible responsibility of top Saudi officials,” he said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has meanwhile told a congressional hearing that Washington is still working “all across the government” to identify and hold accountable anyone responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.